Despite the fact that sex is a basic instinct and a near-universal experience, we know remarkably little about it. And so, this week, we’re teaming up with our friends at Futurism, oracles of all things science, technology and medicine, to look at the past, present and future of pleasure from a completely scientific perspective.
“Give in to the pleasure,” says independent porn creator Kasha Reine, shrugging off a silky robe to reveal the lacy, black lingerie beneath. She flutters her eyelashes at the camera as she mimics the action of jerking off a huge cock. “My pleasure is your pleasure,” she repeats. There’s a black-and-white spiral filter superimposed on top of the 20-second teaser clip, which undulates slowly as she rubs her breasts, urging the viewer to join in. “You will learn to obey me and you will learn to please me,” promises the accompanying caption. “As I give you a final countdown to cum, you repeat the mantra ‘my pleasure is your pleasure’ until you finally burst, losing all free will and becoming completely enslaved.”
The video has all the hallmarks of premium erotic hypnosis: repetitive mantras, entrancing visual effects and various commands, all designed to “enslave” viewers and make them bust the hugest nut possible. Yet, like thousands of similar clips online, it’s filed under vaguely named categories like “mind fuck” and “mesmerize.” Calling it “hypnosis” isn’t allowed.
After all, porn has had a particular vendetta against erotic hypnosis for years. According to a comprehensive spreadsheet of banned porn terms, created by performer Sophie Ladder, 19 out of 29 major porn sites censor hypnosis content in some way, or don’t explain their rules around it at all (OnlyFans and Pornhub included). Many forbid the word “hypnosis,” but not the actual act itself; other sites advise creators to use linguistic loopholes by renaming their content.
It’s a tangled web of censorship, one which often leaves erotic hypnosis creators pondering what the hell they can actually do. It also begs the question: Why is porn so afraid of the big, bad erotic hypnotist, and where does this undying fear come from?
First, it’s worth explaining exactly what erotic hypnosis — sometimes known as “hypnokink” — actually is. “The way I describe it is a recreational use of hypnosis in an erotic or sexual content,” says the affably named Neil the Erotic Hypnotist, who became a certified hypnotherapist in 2003. “It’s recreational in the sense that it’s not supposed to have long-term effects, and it’s for fun, just like any other form of sex.”
As for erotic hypnosis porn, it generally falls into two categories. There’s the POV style favored by creators like Reine, which involve direct-to-camera monologues and occasionally some sort of jerk-off instruction. Then, there’s the “voyeuristic” kind, where viewers watch someone being hypnotized into having sex, getting kinky or trying out new fetishes in their trance-like state. Often, these people are actors pretending to be hypnotized, but occasionally, performers will attempt it themselves.
As with any porn, the vast majority of erotic hypnosis content is — and should be — consensually made. But early last year, journalist and sex worker Ana Valens dug deeper into censorship rules and found that sites generally lump erotic hypnosis into the category of “non-consensual” content, banning it on those grounds. “I definitely think people assume you can just hypnotize someone into doing absolutely anything,” she tells me. “There’s a misunderstanding that you basically plant a murder drive into somebody and then make them kill somebody else, which is totally not how it works.”
This argument seems particularly weird for POV-style clips, as viewers knowingly click on the videos, and many fans specifically request custom content from hypnosis providers — Neil gives “ABDL” (adult baby diaper lover) fetishists as a popular example. They want to be hypnotized so they can explore their desires without shame.
“I’ve introduced a lot of people to BDSM through hypnosis, because it became their gateway to experience the sensation of being controlled,” he says. He also offers “vanilla” services, where clients are hypnotized into an intensely horny state.
That said, Neil says it’s “extremely, extremely rare” that you can hypnotize someone and make them respond to suggestions without their consent. In fact, as a peer-reviewed 2019 article on hypnosis and hypnotherapy concluded, if someone doesn’t want to be hypnotized, it’s unlikely they can be at all.
If they do, though, hypnosis can be an effective method to deal with conditions like tobacco addiction or chronic pain, the latter of which the American Psychological Association endorses as an effective treatment. Still, the success of a hypnosis session depends on how “suggestible” someone is — meaning how willing they are to go along with the hypnotist’s suggestions — as well as whether there’s been some pre-agreement on what they actually want to achieve. With those things in place, the aforementioned article stresses that hypnotists use metaphors and suggestions to alter someone’s state of mind subtly, not straight-up brainwash them like you see on TV. Put another way, hypnosis is largely safe.
So, then, where do these nefarious assumptions about hypnotists come from? A quick glimpse into the history of cinema gives more insight. According to German cinema history book Homo Cinematicus, the practice of hypnosis has been shrouded in moral panic for centuries. In 1895 — the year modern cinema as we know it was born — Germany’s Imperial Health Office banned public displays of hypnosis on “public health grounds,” describing them as “physiological experiments that were potentially harmful to the subjects.”
For the next few decades, German bureaucrats whipped themselves into a furied frenzy over any on-screen depiction of hypnosis — in 1933, one of the first acts of the Third Reich was to ban Fritz Lang’s The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, a fictional crime-thriller about a guy in an asylum brainwashed by a murderous hypnotist. “The film contains a truly horrendous accumulation of crimes,” reads the report of a scandalized censorship official, cited in the aforementioned book. “[They’re] carried out by a gang whose leader is under the power of a hypnosis exercised by a psychotic.”
Around the same time, sexy, mind-fucking vixens were beginning to pop up in “stag films,” some of the earliest examples of modern porn. In her landmark book A Taste for Brown Sugar: Black Women in Pornography, academic Mireille Miller-Young managed to track down a stag film collector and view two of his classics: The Golden Shower and The Hypnotist. In one scene of The Hypnotist, a young, unnamed Black actress plays Madam Cyprian, “a hypnotist for hire” approached by a middle-aged white couple. “The camera focuses on [Cyprian’s] entranced face and especially on her mesmerizing eyes, framed by gesticulating hands,” Miller-Young writes of the scene. Before long, she’s hypnotized them into a “spellbound ménage à trois — through the Black woman’s exotic, sexual, supernatural abilities, the white family is magically restored.”
Throughout the scene, Cyprian “mischievously winks, comically rolls her eyes [and] playfully [sticks] out her tongue.” The implication is that she has total, unquestionable power over this initially sexless couple, and she wields it to spectacularly horny effects. But again, it’s a dramatization — as Neil confirms, this isn’t a realistic depiction of what erotic hypnotists, or hypnosis porn, can do.
Nowadays, it’s independent content creators who dominate the hypnosis porn market. Self-described “mind-hacking cyber sadist” Hypnotic Zeta first tried erotic hypnosis while working for phone-sex company NiteFlirt. “I’m a pretty good storyteller, I love theatrics and roleplay and I’ve always been fascinated by human psychology, so [erotic hypnosis] came pretty naturally to me,” she explains. Generally, callers approach her with popular desires: Some want to be mesmerized into a pathetically weak, horny state; others want “IQ play, where someone becomes increasingly less intelligent.” Zeta has her fair share of superhero fans, too. “I once did a Superman role-play where I was an evil hypnotist taking over Metropolis,” she recalls. “That was really fun!”
Censorship makes life difficult in terms of knowing where is safe to upload her content, but in Zeta’s eyes, bans point to wider misunderstanding of erotic hypnosis as a practice. “It might not be obvious, but it seems obvious to me,” she says, echoing Neil. “The truth is, you can’t make someone do something they didn’t already want to do.”
As always, there are scandalous exceptions. In 2011, three Florida students died — two by suicide, one in a car crash — and an investigation later found they had all been hypnotized by their school principal, who served a year in prison for hypnotizing kids without a license. All the kids had sought out his services and consented to being hypnotized. The case is a huge black mark in the practice’s history, but it boils down to a gross abuse of power by an adult with control over minors, and catastrophes like this can’t exactly be replicated by a series of direct-to-camera porn monologues. Moreover, when it comes to erotic hypnosis, there are no known cases of anything going wrong — just a bunch of “erotic crime novels” that fictionalize what might happen if something did.
There’s another layer of stigma to unpack, though. “Through my own personal experience of studying the erotic hypnosis community, it’s a kink that appeals to a wide array of queer people — there are lots of trans, asexual and gender non-conforming people who are really attracted to it,” explains Valens. Arguably, this is because marginalized people grow up internalizing shame and stigma. If you’ve always been told you’re a deviant, it’s understandable you might seek out a hypnotist to brainwash you into living out your kinkiest, most affirming fantasies and absolving yourself of guilt by pointing to your hypnotized state.
Such logic, however, falls on deaf ears when it comes to those who work against sex workers and trans communities. “There’s this growing conspiracy theory that trans women in particular, but also some trans men, are being ‘hypnotized’ by pornography, and it’s slowly growing,” Valens continues. It doesn’t take much digging to corroborate her claims — Reddit commenters froth at the mouth writing about “sissy hypno” porn and erotic hypnosis more generally, convinced it’s an MKUltra op to psychologically torture the nation into becoming extreme kinksters.
This is, obviously, untrue. In a nutshell, “sissy hypno” porn is a niche popular among trans women content creators, who recite monologues encouraging usually cis male viewers to become “sissies” by dressing up and behaving in conventionally “feminine” ways. It’s a consensual emasculation kink, just like being cucked or being called a “little bitch” and then drained by a findom. Despite this, the mere affiliation between erotic hypnosis and trans creators has TERFs speculating that trans hypnokink creators are brainwashing armies of cis dudes into subservient sissies. “It’s not like hypnotists can bring a cis guy into a room and spit them out a trans woman,” explains Valens.
Then, there’s the ongoing, more general “war on porn,” led by evangelical zealots and buoyed by high-profile scare pieces in publications like The New York Times. By uncritically parroting anti-porn propaganda, these headlines have caused payment processors like Visa and Mastercard to cut ties with major porn players, and to push for tighter censorship of NSFW sites across the board. As a result, it’s tempting to write off the censorship of erotic hypnosis as just another casualty of these tightened restrictions.
But that argument doesn’t entirely check out, as hypnosis content has been censored long before today’s porn war really heated up. In fact, Neil recalls the term “hypnosis” being banned as early as 2010. “I hypnotized a friend to do all this exhibitionist stuff, so he posted it to Xtube because he thought it was super hot,” Neil explains. “Later, we realized the site had used asterisks to censor the word, which is ridiculous because we weren’t even showing the actual process of hypnosis, just the result of the hypnosis.”
Even then, the video stayed online — it was just the text that got censored. This is because porn titans tend to use automated moderation programs to flag banned words, which again, makes it easy to rename “hypnosis” content as “mind fuck” and help it slip through the cracks.
Yet, when it comes to nailing down a definitive reason for the disproportionate censorship of erotic hypnosis, there is no conclusive answer. “There are documented instances of payment processors being kind of the middle people, and being pressured by banks and credit companies to dictate and control what content is published,” explains Valens. A prime example is when, in 2017, kink forum FetLife released a statement explaining that erotic hypnosis, among other kink categories, would be banned from the site, citing “financial risk” as a reason.
Per Valens, “mind fuck” content could be seen as “more dangerous” to payment processors in the sense that it’s easy for clients to chargeback transactions and claim they were hypnotized into buying more content. But there’s seemingly no documented evidence of this happening, so it seems more like speculative risk aversion than anything else. Payment processors offer little clarification about this themselves, either. “These companies aren’t going to tell you, because it pulls the curtain back and forces them to take responsibility,” Valens concludes.
Reasoning aside, this relentless wave of anti-porn lobbying is having a real impact on the sex workers who rely on kinky niches to survive. “Posting content has been like a frustrating game of Minesweeper,” says Mistress Alexxxia, an erotic hypnosis specialist. “Every day it seems like there are new terms of service released on all of the sites I work for, so the thesaurus has become my best friend.” In her eyes, “people still see hypnosis as a predator with the power to empty a person’s head. That’s why you get companies like Mastercard believing that we’re super-villains broadcasting black-and-white spirals in the attempt to harm and enslave anyone we can.”
The reality is far more banal — these videos are merely an outlet for kinky porn fans to momentarily and consensually relinquish control, to give into their desires without shame. From sissies and asexuals to bondage enthusiasts keen to get flogged into oblivion, the viewers seeking out erotic hypnosis know exactly what they’re getting themselves into. The only thing to fear, then, is how much you might like it.